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'Hell Ride' brings back old biker days ... but why?
By Michael Wilmington | Contributing Film Critic

Chicago native Michael Madsen stars as "The Gent" in Larry Bishop's spaghetti western on wheels "Hell Ride."


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Published: 8/7/2008 12:06 AM

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Remember the good old days of "The Savage Seven," "Hell's Angels on Wheels" and "Chrome and Hot Leather?" Remember the pungent, '60s-'70s movie era of cool dudes on Harley Davidsons, sultry dolls in C-cup bras and wild rides set to "Wild Angels"-style fuzztone riffs?

In "Hell Ride" - thanks to executive producer Quentin Tarantino - writer-director-star and one time cycle-movie regular Larry Bishop wants to bring it all back. Occasionally he does.

It may seem peculiar to suggest that the greatest appeal of a new flick featuring copious amounts of sadistic violence, gratuitous sex, frequent female nudity, grotesque bloodshed and nonstop foul language is its vein of sweet nostalgia, but that's almost the case here - in this saga of a feud between longtime rival biker gangs 666 (the bad, devilish guys) and The Victors (the sort of good guys).

The deliberately clichéd plot has a fierce threesome from The Victors - Pistolero (Bishop), The Gent (Michael Madsen and Comanche (Eric Balfour) - battle brutal 666er Billy Wings (Vinnie Jones) and his Wild-ish Bunch through a series of bashes and bloodlettings that rage all over the scorching California land and roadscapes. You've seen most of it before, and that's the idea.

Bishop - the son of the late comedian and Sinatra Clan-member Joey Bishop - actually appeared in "Savage Seven" and "Hot Leather," as well as "Wild in the Streets" and other mini-budget blasts. And he remembers the swaggering acting mode and flashy low rent cinematographic style and content of those old drive in movie specials. He also recalls and digs the majestically macho grand opera vendetta techniques of the '60s Sergio Leone westerns - Tarantino favorites that are also copied here.

Bishop has pursaded some hard-bitten, stylish veterans of that era - notably "Easy Rider's" mean-eyed maestro Dennis Hopper (as Eddie "Scratch" Zero of The Victors) and "Boxcar Bertha's" stoic David Carradine (as the Deuce of the 666ers), as well as Tarantino mainstay Madsen (the murderous Mr. Blonde of "Reservoir Dogs") -to do their stuff here. Their performances are the highlights of the movie - which could use more of all of them.

No one can look crazier than Hopper, few can take a punch like Carradine and nobody can smirk quite like Madsen, here decked out in an unlikely Dean Martin hog-riding outfit of full tuxedo and guns.

Unfortunately, Bishop has used his filmmaker's prerogative here a bit too liberally - putting himself in too many sex and foreplay scenes with beautiful and naked fellow cast members like Cassandra Hepburn (as Lana) and Leonor Varela (as Nada.)

"Hell Ride" is a little fuzzy and arty in its sound and exposition. Casual viewers unaware of biker movie conventions may be a little lost. One might also wonder why Tarantino and his bunch are spending so much time trying to recapture the ambience of those old bad-good cheapo movies, whose style was mostly a function of very low budgets. It's a dubious strategy, especially for the guy that brought us "Reservoir Dogs" and "Pulp Fiction," two great movies with classier models. But, if your dad belonged to the Rat Pack, and you've got Dennis Hopper on a hog and Michael Madsen in a tux, it can cover up a multitude of motorcycle sins.

'Hell Ride'

Rating: 1½ stars

Starring: Dennis Hopper, Vinnie Jones, David Carradine, Michael Madsen, Larry Bishop

Directed by: Larry Bishop

Other: A Roadside Attractions release. At the AMC South Barrington 30 and Century Centre in Chicago. Rated R for language, sexual situations, drug use and nudity. 85 minutes.